The University of East Anglia (UEA) prides itself on building strong connections its between staff and students through celebrating a range of diverse voices and backgrounds. As a University of Sanctuary, UEA is committed to providing an inclusive admissions service which facilitates entry to Health Sciences programmes to high quality candidates who will engage with and contribute to the overall institutional ethos and values. The institution recognises its successes in student recruitment, but strongly felt that progression needed to be made to address recruitment gaps in Health Sciences courses for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students, students from disadvantaged social backgrounds (i.e., Polar 4 Quintile 1), and mature students.
Advance HE was commissioned to undertake a review of the entire application cycle to better understand what stops students from these groups from applying to Health Sciences at UEA and why they experience the interview process differently to other applicants.
The focus for the research team was to provide key staff members within the School of Health Sciences with an evidence-based foundation and to explore good practice in the sector, whilst providing them with the opportunity to listen, adopt and utilise data regarding staff and student experiences of the recruitment process.
The research consisted of three key phases:
Phase One – Desk based research: The team conducted desk-based research exploring current recruitment practices, including an extensive review of their current admissions and recruitment policies. Furthermore, the team also conducted a literature-based exploration of the benefits of ensuring equitable admissions policies and practices and Widening Participation (WP) and access for underrepresented groups, which provided UEA with a solid foundation in which to review their own processes and procedures.
Phase Two – Staff Interviews: Seven one-to-one interviews with staff working in the admissions team, WP, and academia were used to discuss experiences and perceptions of admissions and recruitment practices to health sciences courses, and identify any gaps in knowledge and training.
Phase Three – Focus Group Testing: Three semi-structured focus groups were undertaken with current UEA health sciences students from the three target groups identified (ie students from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds, mature students and students from Polar 4 Q1 regions). The key aim of these sessions was to better understand student experiences of the admissions and recruitment process, highlighting differences in these and how processes could be enhanced in the future.
Outcomes and impact
As a result of research undertaken, the Insights team at Advance HE was able to compile a comprehensive set of recommendations for embedding inclusive practice into the School of Health Sciences’ student recruitment practices, processes and systems.
The School of Health Sciences at UEA is now in a strong position to review and establish new and innovative inclusive recruitment and admissions processes, and there was a clear enthusiasm for transformational change within this area. UEA recruitment and admissions teams have already implemented change within the 2022/2023 recruitment cycle, including extensive revision of interview questions, increased communication with students, and staff training.
The research conducted by Advance HE was thorough, student focused and provided actionable insights for us to take forward as an institution. The team have taken time to understand us as an institution and the challenges we face, and recommended methodologies to meet our research needs in our context. We have always felt we are receiving valuable expertise from the research team at Advance HE, and would recommend them for other institutions looking create institutional change through student experience. "
Scott Knight, Head of Outreach, UEA
Disabled Students’ Commission (2021) Considerations for disabled applicants applying to postgraduate courses. York: Advance HE.
Office for Students (2019). Standards of evidence and evaluating impact of outreach. Bristol and London: Office for Students.
Steven, K. and Thomas, L. (2019). Attracting Diversity: End of project report. York: Advance HE.
Erba, J., Phillips, L. and Geana, M. V. (2012). Am I in? Influence of viewers’ race and sex on image appeal for higher education advertising. Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies, 2, 1.
About the Researcher
Dr Anne Rowan, Mixed Methods Researcher
Anne joined Advance HE in 2021 as a mixed methods researcher. She has over 10 years’ professional work experience, developing expertise and knowledge in Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at both a national and international level. Anne has a PhD in Education focusing on capturing the experiences of international students with physical disabilities/mental health conditions in UK Higher Education. She has been involved in, and led, several EDI high profile research projects within higher education and has vast experience in researching, scoping, and designing EDI enhancement projects. In her role at Advance HE, she has delivered a number of bespoke audits and programme evaluations, and been responsible for the Disabled Students Commission. Read some of her recent work here.
Her main interests lie in EDI considerations in HE, with a special focus on issues related to disability, race equity, gender equality, mixed methods research design and project evaluation.
About our bespoke qualitative research
We offer independent audits that adopt a multi-pronged approach to data collection. We use focus groups, interviews, survey data and desk-based research to obtain a comprehensive, 360-degree view of the current context and provide insightful recommendations to institutions.
- Focus groups: showcase the voices of different groups of individuals and allow unique experiences to be captured, as well as obtain valuable information on what works and what needs improving.
- Interviews: a targeted approach to gaining insight into specific processes and issues, and practical considerations around translating recommendations into practice.
- Surveys: enable a broader perspective, both by including more participants but also by capturing data on multiple topics simultaneously.
- Desk-based research: particularly useful in areas that are underdeveloped as it involves reviewing key literature, drawing comparisons and learning from others (e.g. through examples of best practice).
Each method has its own strengths and limitations, which complement one other when employed in tandem.
In this example, we have applied this approach to investigate an institution’s EDI practices in relation to its student recruitment. However, the audit process could just as easily be used to provide an institution with practical insights into a variety of policies, such as reporting and complaints procedures, admissions processes, bullying and harassment processes, staff recruitment and retention practices, to name a few.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how our bespoke research consultancy can be applied to your context.